The Merced football team is fortunate to still be playing this week.
Some would even say lucky.
It seems odd to say that about a team loaded with as much talent as Merced.
We're talking about a group just about everybody expected would be one of the last teams standing in the playoffs.
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However, most teams would be turning in their gear if they made some of the mistakes Merced has made in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Fortunately, Merced's talent has been able to overcome the mistakes.
Still, I don't think anybody wearing black and orange can honestly say Merced has played its best football the last four weeks.
The last month has been a serious struggle.
The fact that Merced has still found a way to pull out wins in each of the last four weeks is nothing short of amazing.
Just look at what we've seen in the last month.
It took a circus catch from Eddie Beavers in the final seconds to defeat Turlock.
The following week it was a juggling catch by Kenny Cooper in the same end zone to beat Pitman in the final seconds.
In the playoffs, Merced has needed big second halves to knock off Tracy and Johansen to set up its semifinal showdown against Stockton St. Mary's on Friday night.
Yet, Merced is still alive.
"It has been quite amazing," Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. "People probably don't want to throw last Friday into the Turlock and Pitman miracles, but it really should be.
"Our level of play in the fourth quarter elevated, (so) that we were that much better than Johansen."
There's something to be said about a team who comes up with the big plays when they need them the most.
Frankly, Merced is going to need more than that this week.
St. Mary's is a different animal.
We're talking about the most explosive offense Merced has seen all year and arguably the best quarterback in the Sac-Joaquin Section in Oregon State-bound senior Cody Vaz.
Merced's margin of error will shrink quite a bit this week.
To put it simply, Merced must play its best game of the year.
I'm talking up and down the sideline -- from kicker D.J. Cherf to Scheidt.
The missed blocks, the holding calls, the dropped snaps, the missed extra points, the blown coverages and the ill-advised timeouts must all disappear.
Merced is going to need to be sharp and crisp.
I've seen plenty Merced games this year and I don't think we've seen this team put everything together in one game.
I know there are people that would say after 11 games, "You are what you are."
Well, I think this team is capable of more. Much more.
Looking back at Merced's season, it's hard to single out its "best" game.
"I don't know if it was our overall best game or not, but when we played Napa, I felt we had a team on their heels the whole game.
"It didn't show on the scoreboard until the second half.
"In the middle of the season, we were lights out offensively and probably not as bad as we thought defensively.
"We've taken our lumps the last four weeks. We haven't got out of that rut yet. We're still looking for that to happen.
"It's frustrating that you're not playing your best at this point in the season."
Call it a hunch, but I think we're going to see it on Friday.
Maybe it will be the 8,000 people crammed into Stadium '76 that will bring it out of them.
I think you'll see some changes on defense to help combat St. Mary's speed.
Scheidt felt he made a mistake when he didn't play some of his stars both ways in the loss to Fresno Edison.
That's why I expect to see more of Allen Huddleston, Kenny Cooper and Eddie Beavers playing on defense.
We could also see Stephon Mathis at cornerback -- if he's able to play.
"We're going to try to get the best matchups we can," Scheidt said. "We're definitely happy with the way our corners have played the pass and the run.
"They're physical. With that being said, we're facing a team that plays a lot with four and sometimes five receivers.
"We're going to look at every angle we can."
Offensively, Merced has the weapons to win a shootout or a slugfest against St. Mary's.
Merced just has to make St. Mary's beat them.
It's going to be a long offseason if Merced beats itself.
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.